OK. So we’ve all had about a week to grouse and lick our wounds. It became officially official – because these things do make a difference, as we’ve come to find out — only a couple of days ago: All-Star SS Carlos Correa will not be a New York Met after all, instead opting to return to the Minnesota Twins. It’s unclear whether or not you can call it a “blow to the offense” for the Mets, since you can’t really miss what you never had, but the Mets certainly aren’t as powerful or dynamic as they were a week ago.
In fact, at this very early juncture, it’s impossible to tell if they’ve improved much at all since we last saw them on October 9.
Let’s start – as we must – with the whopper in the room, the contract to sign P Justin Verlander, a two year, $86.67 million deal, with a third-year vesting option. Verlander is coming off an AL Cy Young Award – which, in itself is remarkable, seeing as that was coming off a season lost to Tommy John surgery. He joins a pitching staff already loaded with talent, or at least it had been prior to the departures of Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt, and Taijuan Walker. If Verlander is seen as an insta-replacement for deGrom – as well, he should be – Japanese pitcher Kodai Senga and erstwhile St. Louis Cardinal Jose Quintana will be stepping in for Bassitt and Walker. Senga cost $75 million for five years, while Quintana was inked for $26 million over two. These two are the great unknowns, especially Senga, along with Verlander’s age/health. As it stands now, the rotation rounds out to Verlander, Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco, Senga and Quintana, with a combination of David Peterson/Tylor Megill waiting in the wings in case of injury or faltering performance. In the bullpen, Seth Lugo, Joely Rodriguez, Mychal Givens, and the Trevor Twins (May and Williams) were all lost to free-agency, while Edwin Diaz – thankfully! – and Adam Ottavino were brought back into the fold. Veteran David Robertson was also signed as a much-needed supplement.
On the other side of the ball, as they say, in the absence of Correa, the offense remains pretty much status quo. The only notable free agent signing was the retention of CF Brandon Nimmo on an eight-year, $162 million agreement. Disappointing C James McCann was jettisoned to Baltimore. He will seemingly be replaced by super-rookie Francisco Alvarez, in combination with another glove-first catcher, Omar Narvaez, signed from Milwaukee. Dominic Smith was non-tendered and signed with the Washington Nationals. General Manager Billy Eppler has yet to address the glaring shortage of right-handed power in general, particularly at the DH spot. Flirtations with Andrew McCutchen and Trey Mancini towards that end have gone the way of Correa. There has been persistent talk of pursuits of Adam Duvall and Tommy Pham, but there is nothing beyond the rumor stage at this point.
Can the Mets repeat their 101-win performance, as presently constituted? Can they even come close? From how it looks from here, the Mets are a third-place club. The NL East Champion Atlanta Braves – also a 101-win squadron – shored up their most glaring weakness at the catchers’ spot, trading for Oakland’s Sean Murphy, while the NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies made a raft of free-agent signings to improve their own pitching staff and defense. And other NL teams in the other two divisions – in competition with the Mets and everybody else for Wild Card slots next October – made improvements of their own, of course.
So it appears Mets’ owner Steve Cohen has spent an awful lot of money to basically stay in the same place. I know the game plan, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ blueprint – spend, spend, spend, spend and spend some more to stay in contention while the farm system gets a deliberate rebuild, then replenish losses through internal means, rather than external. It is a high-risk, high-reward stratagem that has paid off handsomely for Los Angeles thus far and it can be duplicated, assuming the Mets’ personnel people and scouting staff possess the same level of acumen and foresight as their West Coast counterparts – and trying to ensure that will take a different kind of spending, altogether. Of course, it can be done, but it certainly doesn’t appear easy.
The Mets, it seems at this point, are out of breath, just from trying to keep up.